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US Denies Split Over North Korea Oil Shipments


The United States has reaffirmed that parties to the Chinese-sponsored talks on North Korea's nuclear program have agreed to stop supplying Pyongyang with energy aid until it accepts a plan to verify disarmament steps. But U.S. officials say Russian oil deliveries already in process are going forward.

The State Department says two Russian oil shipments, one to be delivered this week and another fully contracted for, will be sent to North Korea. But it says further shipments are inconceivable as long as Pyongyang refuses to accept a verification protocol to confirm it is disabling its nuclear facilities.

Talks in Beijing broke down last week over North Korea's rejection of a verification plan accepted by the other five parties for the declaration of the nuclear program Pyongyang made last June.

North Korea is in the process of disabling the nuclear-reactor complex that produced the plutonium for its small nuclear-weapons arsenal in return for shipments of heavy fuel oil from other parties to the talks.

The Bush administration said last week that oil shipments had been suspended due to the verification impasse.

Russia to Make Good on Previously Arranged Deal

But since then Russia said it will make deliveries it arranged and South Korea suggested it might do the same.

Later, a senior State Department official in Washington said Russia would not make further shipments and that South Korea is solidly supporting the suspension.

At a news briefing State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said there is a basic understanding among parties to the talks that oil deliveries cannot proceed under the circumstances.

"If you are talking about a formal written agreement, no. But there is certainly an understanding that came out of the [Beijing] discussions that in the absence of this verification protocol, it is inconceivable...that people would go forward in fulfilling these fuel shipments," said Wood. "Again, we are in a process of action-for-action, and we want to see the North approve this verification protocol. All the other parties did."

Yongbyon reactor to be Dismantled in Exchange for Oil

Under the nuclear agreement finalized last year, North Korea was to receive one million tons of heavy fuel oil in return for permanently disabling its Yongbyon reactor complex.

More than half the fuel has been supplied by the United States, South Korea, Russia and China. Japan, the other participant in the talks has not provided oil because it says Pyongyang has not fully accounted for Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1980s.

North Korea indicated in recent days it would slow the disablement of the Yongbyon site because of the halt to oil supplies, but spokesman Wood says no change in the disabling process has been observed.

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